The Oklahoma City Thunder are the fifth seed in the Western Conference, yet they enter Tuesday's Game 1 of the playoffs against the Houston Rockets as the favored team.
Although these squads had identical 44-28 records, Houston won out on a tiebreaker. Not that it matters as much in Orlando, since home-court advantage is nonexistent in these strange times.
Read on for abe Insights' betting preview for arguably the best matchup of the first round, where you'll find the best odds available upon publication, key stats, analysis of the major lines and more important information.
Date: Tuesday, August 18
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Thunder 51%; Rockets 50%
Spread: OKC -1
Moneyline: OKC -105; HOU -100
Thunder floor general Chris Paul suffered a sprained left hand not long ago, so his health situation will be something to monitor. Even more significant, his counterpart, former OKC cornerstone Russell Westbrook, is out for Game 1 and potentially longer with a quad strain.
Without Westbrook, Rockets superstar and another ex-OKC standout James Harden will be tasked with shouldering more of the offensive burden than he already does. It'll be interesting to see how Houston's small-ball lineups match up to the Thunder, who have traditional center Steven Adams as one of their key pieces.
30.4 vs. 35.3: Houston hasn't been horrible defending the 3-point arc in Orlando, but no bubble team did it better than OKC. Its opponents' 3-point percentage is reflected in that first figure, followed by that of the Rockets, who ranked 10th out of 22 teams.
18.9 vs. 15.1: The first stat is Houston's bubble-leading amount of turnovers forced per contest. That second set of digits represents the Thunder's turnover percentage over the last eight games, which was sixth-worst among bubble squads.
25.6 vs. 15.3: Where the Rockets really suffered in Orlando is offensive rebounding percentage, which is the last number here. That was easily the lowest total in the Association, whereas OKC at least finished 14th of 22, within percentage points of a couple spots higher.
That last stat matchup is particularly jarring, especially considered in the context of the personnel section, where Adams was touched on for a moment. Without Westbrook to rock the rim, Harden is among the only Rockets who can drive into the paint and finish, but he'll have Adams and Nerlens Noel to deny him.
If the Thunder can just defend Harden at the rim without fouling, either triggering a pass out to Houston's many shooters or at least making the close-range shot tough on him, they'll have a winning formula.
Oklahoma City was arguably the best story of the NBA season. Left to tank after it traded away Westbrook for Paul, now the tables have turned in a big way. It'd be far more interesting if Westbrook can get his quad right and get back out there against the team that drafted him and saw him blossom into a triple-double-averaging superstar.
Anyone concerned about this being a tight score and the Thunder not having a surefire option like Harden to turn to in crunch time, this may come as something of a shock: Guess who led the NBA this season in clutch points? CP3. Want to know who was 15th? OKC's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. How about 18th? Danilo Gallinari.
So in summary, the Thunder were the only squad with three guys in the top 20. It's a testament to their ability to close, and how often they were in those situations and saw a trio of core players rise to the occasion. This should only serve the coach Billy Donovan's bunch well if OKC's magic continues into the playoffs.
Houston is going to jack up a ton of treys; OKC is excellent at defending those shots. That should cause the Rockets' fast pace to lag. Plus, Houston was No. 1 in TeamRankings.com's data at hitting the Under, so bets should favor that side of the total.
More of a defensive game plays into the Thunder's hands, as they have enough size inside and length on the perimeter to give the Rockets matchup issues. Public wagers are more likely to skew toward Houston's spread and moneyline, though, mainly due to sentiment bias and Harden's presence as the best player on the court.
Note: Odds current as of 1:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, August 18.
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